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SOME SUPERSTITIONS AND CUSTOMS OF 
FILIPINO FARMERS 

By Emma Sarepta Yule, College of Agriculture, University 
of the Philippines, Los Banos, Philippines 

No occupation of man has produced a richer store of tra- 
ditions, customs, and superstitions than agriculture. The 
daily life and work of the farmer bring him in a peculiarly 
close relationship with the forces of nature. If he dwells in 
the darkness of ignorance in regions where the early morning 
light of civilization is just appearing, the poor farmer re- 
gards the productive agents of nature with awe. In the 
performance of his daily tasks a superstitious fear haunts 
him. The soil he tills, the seed he sows have hidden, mys- 
terious forces; the air is filled with invisible beings, waiting, 
watching, ready with their supernatural gifts to bless with 
plenty or curse with want. The sun, the moon, the stars, 
the thunder, the lightning, the wind, the rain, are but mani- 
festations of an all-controlling, relentless power. This 
fear, ever-present in the soul of the farmer leads him to 
practice many propitiatory rites and ceremonies. Ignorant 
of nature's laws, he knows no other way to gain the goodwill 
of the all-powerful forces on which he depends for his daily 
food. 

The Filipino farmer, after nearly four hundred years of 
nominal contact with European civilization, is most super- 
stitious, and in his planting and harvesting is a devout be- 
liever in the efficacy of all manner of conciliatory ceremonies. 
There is something altogether delightful in the childlike- 
ness, the simplicity of many of these traditional rites. 

As rice is and has been the chief means of subsistence in 
the Philippines so far back that the origin of its use is lost 
in the mazes of tradition, about this crop gather the great- 
est number and the most sacred of the Filipino supersti- 
tions. Though communities differ somewhat in the per- 

223 



224 EMMA SAEEPTA YULE 

formance of the rites, there is a resemblance that reveals their 
common origin or source. The few customs here given con- 
nected with culture of rice and other products are fairly- 
representative of the beliefs and practices of the Christian 
Filipino farmers in different parts of the island of Luzon and 
the Visayan islands where the major portion of the five most 
important civilized tribes live. 

The reason the farmer does not plow the soil deep is that 
the roots of the plants are afraid of total darkness. 

While threshing the rice for seed by stamping it out with 
the feet, the worker may touch a rope, vine, or any body free 
to move, but he must not touch a fixed object as a post, tree 
or wall. Should he do this the stalks of rice grown from 
the seeds will be short and small. The straw from which 
the seed is threshed must not be burnt or the plants which 
grow from the seed will not be strong and vigorous. 

During the seed-time farmers must not cut their hair or 
shave or eat salt fish. If they do any one of these things the 
stalks of rice will grow short. 

When the farmer sows the rice in the seed-bed he must be 
alone so that if locusts or other insect pests come to destroy 
the crop they will not come in large numbers. 

The strange blending of pagan and Christian practices and 
beliefs that can always be traced in the process of Christian- 
izing a pagan people is apparent in many of the customs and 
superstititions of the Filipino farmers. The flowers used 
at Easter time or at other special church services are gath- 
ered up carefully by the farmers and carried home and 
broken up and mixed with rice seed before it is sown in 
the seed-bed. Grains for seed are often taken to the church 
on Corpus Christi Day to receive the blessing of the priest 
and be sprinkled with the holy water. 

Whether the farmer is to plant rice seed in the seed-bed 
or to sow it broadcast for upland rice, he must eat a very 
hearty meal before beginning his work, This is done so 
that the grains of his crop will be good big full grains. Before 
he begins to sow, the farmer removes his salakot, or broad 
mushroom-shaped hat as a mark of solemn respect to the 
powers that control the harvest. In some localities uncover- 



SUPERSTITIONS AND CUSTOMS OF FILIPINO FARMERS 225 

ing the head is interpreted to be in reverence to San Isidro, 
the patron saint of the farmer. As he sows, the farmer must 
be sure to close his eyes, for if he cannot see, neither will the 
birds and rats and mice be able to see where the seeds are. 
Ashes or bits of charcoal are scattered over the ground to 
blind in some way the eyes of insects and birds and also the 
evil spirits so they cannot see the grains. In all probability 
this was a scheme of the good padres to secure some fertili- 
zation of the fields by the farmers. 

In broadcasting rice a bountiful harvest will be assured 
if the sowing be begun the day after a night when the sky 
is full of stars. Upland rice should be sown at high tide. 
If the farmer lives too far inland to note the ebb and flow 
of the tides, he tells by the eyes of a cat. When the tide is 
high the cat's eyes expand, when it is low tide they contract. 

For four days after the sowing of rice no member of the 
family shall sweep the house or the yard about the house. 
Nor shall any one in the family sharpen a knife or any metal 
implement. If these things are done the harvest will be 
light and the grain of poor quality. 

If a stick is used to make holes in which to plant rice seed 
(this method is used on newly-cleared land) the farmer splits 
the end of the stick used as a handle into many parts like 
a brush. This will cause the cereal to have large bushy 
heads. 

When the lowland, or paddy rice is to be transplanted 
from the seed-bed to the field, almost as much time, cer- 
tainly more mental energy, is consumed in the ceremonies 
required to secure the crop from the depredations of pests and 
spirits, as in the work of actual planting. The rites are a 
queer mix-up of paganism and Christianity. If the cara- 
bao, which pulls through the muck the one handled light 
wooden implement that answers for a plow, should lie 
down while plowing the land for planting it is looked upon 
as a most favorable sign from the powers. Exceedingly 
lucky is the farmer who can secure a specially marked cara- 
bao with which to plow a furrow around the whole field. 
For an animal so favored of the spirits extra hire is paid. 



226 EMMA SAREPTA YULE 

A few days before transplanting begins a platform is built 
in the field. On this platform as an offering to the spirits a 
sack filled with seed-rice is placed. Around the sack are 
laid cooked fish, buyo, wine, and toys. For three days and 
nights no one goes near this propitiatory sacrifice. At the 
end of this time the farmer inspects it. If he finds that any 
of the articles have been taken he is filled with hope and 
goes on with his planting with a good heart, for he knows 
that the spirits are satisfied with his offering and will not 
disturb his crop. If nothing has been taken he is wholly 
despondent and may go no further with his planting, feeling 
confident that his labor would be for naught, as the spirits 
of the air are still angry and he is helpless, his utmost has 
been done to appease them. 

The spirits are frightened away in some localities by plac- 
ing a cross made of bamboo in the field. At the foot of the 
cross onions, garlic, and ginger are put very early in the 
morning before the birds are awake. Just what the vege- 
tables are for is rather obscure but the custom is rigidly fol- 
lowed by many when the cross is used. They evidently 
consider the cross powerless unless supported by these par- 
ticular edibles. 

The day transplanting begins, one man, preferably the 
farmer, plants one row of seedlings around the field, repeat- 
ing prayers as he works. The same man will run rapidly 
across the field so that his helpers in the transplanting will 
work with speed. 

Planting should begin very early in the morning so ani- 
mals will not see the workers. Apparently it makes no 
difference about being seen after the work is begun. Ani- 
mals and spirits of the air seem to be more or less mixed 
together as evils to be averted by secrecy. 

Transplanting should be done in the full of the moon and 
if possible on cloudy days; this helps to secure abundance 
of rainfall during the growing of the crop. 

While transplanting the rice the worker must be very 
careful not to sit or bend his knees, lest the stalks of the grain 
grow crooked. He must never, during transplanting time, sit 
on a log to rest or monkeys will come and destroy his crop, 



SUPERSTITIONS AND CUSTOMS OF FILIPINO FARMERS 227 

for a man sitting on a log bears, in position of body, some 
resemblance to a monkey. 

Even the farmer's children must do their little part. 
After the planting is finished they must not run and play 
until four or five days have passed. Should they indulge in 
such recreation during these days the rats and mice in imita- 
tion of them would run and play over the field. Not only 
in sacrifice of pleasure do the little brown tots render aid in 
rice raising; they unconsciously act as augurs, oracles inter- 
preting the will of the spirits. Should the children, before 
planting begins, play much with sand it is an omen of a 
good crop; just the reverse should they amuse themselves 
with hulls or husks of rice. Kite flying is an infallible sign 
of a harvest of small imperfectly filled grains, while by the 
children spinning tops the spirits promise a good harvest of 
full plump grains. 

Hanging heavy heads of rice on sticks driven in different 
parts of the field is considered an efficient means of securing 
an abundant yield. 

After the rice crop is planted, many things must be done 
to protect it from harm during the growing period. Bamboo 
branches stuck in the corners and in other parts of the up- 
land rice field are believed effective in scaring away the 
spirits. The disheartening locust pest before which science 
and inventive ingenuity stand helpless, the Filipino farmer 
combats by burying some locusts in many parts of the field 
before transplanting the rice and also by catching some of 
the first locusts seen and eating them. That this last act 
will cause the swarm to move on is the faith that impels it. 
Through the latter superstition John the Baptist's special 
brand of food may have come into its present popular use as 
a sweetmeat in Filipino households. 

If the destructive monkeys, another pest in the Philippines, 
menace the crop, a sure way to get rid of them is to catch 
one and skin it, then turn it loose. The companions of the 
flayed simian will disappear. 

Rats are also an enemy that the farmer must fight. It 
is perfectly useless to kill them; this method only, in some 
unexplainable way adds to their number. On the whole, 



228 EMMA SAREPTA YTJLE 

the Filipino farmer deems it best to win the good will of 
this family of gnawing rodents, so he never scolds them or 
speaks to or of them except in terms of politeness. It is 
"Senor Rat" around the rice-field. 

In some communities after the rice is planted the farmer 
goes over the field entreating the spirits in loud wailing 
tones to give him a good crop. As he implores he distributes 
in craftily chosen places a bribe in the form of a sweetmeat 
made of rice, sugar, and coconut. The use of San Nicolas 
bread is also widely practiced. This is a rice or flour bread 
cooked in a special way and blessed by the priest. It is 
usually given on September 10, San Nicolas Day, to the 
farmers who take it home, break it into small bits and scat- 
ter the pieces over the rice field. It is believed to be par- 
ticularly effective in protecting the rice from blight and in- 
sect pest. Sometimes the bread is put inside a bamboo cross 
which is placed in the field. 

It is most important that transplanting be begun on Mon- 
days, Wednesdays, or Saturdays. This last day is an espe- 
cially good day, as it is believed that at one time it was a 
sacred day, so a special blessing attends work begun on that 
day, whether it be planting or harvesting. The other four 
days of the week are dangerous days on which to begin work. 
To work on Sundays or holidays will inevitably bring fail- 
ure of crop. Filipino farmers never work on the anniver- 
saries of great calamities; to do so will surely cause the 
return of the misfortune. 

In all countries the harvest season is attended with more 
ceremony, usually, than the planting season. Whether the 
people be pagan or Christian, the reaping-time observances 
are of the nature of a religious thanksgiving for the gifts of 
the soil, a rejoicing because of the returns for the farmer's 
labor. So it is in the Philippines. Only here at the begin- 
ning of the harvest, at the reaping of the first grains, the good 
will of the spirits that hover about controlling the golden 
fields must be gained. There seems to be a fear that these 
omnipotent beings may not permit the ripened grain to be 
garnered. 



SUPERSTITIONS AND CUSTOMS OF FILIPINO FARMERS 229 

The farmer keeps in mind the next planting and before 
beginning to reap cuts the rice for seed. He does not fail to 
remember the value of good well-filled seed-grains, so the 
fattest man in the family always gathers the rice for seed. 
This personage must have will-power as well as adipose 
tissue for he must keep silent while gathering the grain and 
for two hours after he has brought it to the house. This 
silence is necessary to insure germination. 

A bundle of rice of the last crop is left in the granary to 
welcome the new rice. In some mysterious way this wel- 
coming bundle makes the supply of new rice last, something 
after the manner of the good widow's handful of meal that 
fed the Prophet Elijah. 

To prevent failure of the next crop and as an expression 
of gratitude to the Giver of harvests a bundle of rice is 
taken to the church the day before harvesting begins. Some 
farmers, the day before commencing to cut the grain, walk 
around each paddy, or field, and make the sign of the cross 
at the corners. Offerings of various kinds, as specially pre- 
pared candy, are placed in the field for the spirits and the 
night before reaping proper is begun chickens with white 
feathers are killed and cooked and placed in the fields that 
are awaiting the sickle. 

The ''kitdul," or ceremony of the cutting of the first 
grain has a dramatic flavor, a primitive dignity. Very 
strict rules govern this rite. The cutting must be done by 
the farmer very early on Saturday morning. On the way 
to the field he must not look to the right nor to the left but 
straight ahead. Selecting the "first rice heads" the farmer 
raises his knife to the proper reaping position and repeats the 
Lord's Prayer. When he comes to "Give us this day our 
daily bread" he slowly, religiously lowers the knife and cuts 
twenty stalks . Tying the stalks, which must not be more 
or less than twenty, the farmer walks home slowly, solemnly, 
and hangs the bundle above the stove where it remains until 
the harvest is over. If any member of the family should be 
ill during harvest-time some of these grains from the "bundle 
of twenty" are roasted and soaked in water and the liquor 
given as medicine. It is said that the requirement that the 

THE JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, VOL. 10, NO. 2, 1919 



230 EMMA SAREPTA YULE 

farmer must not look around while going to the field is to 
prevent the reapers idly gazing from their work while har- 
vesting is in progress. 

Besides the "kitdul" the farmer or sometimes his daughter 
goes to the rice field the day before the reaping is begun and 
cuts a few stalks of grain which are carried home as though 
they were a heavy burden. In some occult way the harvest 
is made more abundant by the imitative act of carrying big 
sheaves. 

There are many ceremonies connected with the using of 
the first reaped rice. One is to make "pilipig. " This dish 
is prepared by parching the grains, then pounding them 
into flour which is mixed with sugar and coconut. The ' ' pili- 
pig, " or ceremonial food, must not be tasted until an old 
woman or man who has a local reputation for performing the 
ceremony takes a dish of it to the rice-field and holding it 
on high with both hands, makes offering to the spirit saying: 
"You people of the north, south, east, and west, here is 
your share of the harvest. Protect the crop from destruc- 
tion until it is harvested. Make the next crop grow well. 
Do not harm the farmers who till the soil. Send them no 
sickness. Keep them well and strong. Accept your share 
of the crop with our gratitude for your protection. " After 
the offering to the spirits has been duly made then the ' ' pili- 
pig" is served to the gathered friends. It is thought that 
the yield will be greater if ''pilipig" is offered to many 
people. 

In the provinces of northwest Luzon the custom of mak- 
ing offerings to the spirits is curiously mixed with ancestor 
worship. In these provinces when the harvest offerings are 
made the farmers also make offerings to the spirits of their 
ancestors in gratitude for the land which they have inherited 
and for protection and aid in securing a crop. Blended 
with the gratitude is a fear that if the offering is not made to 
ancestral spirits they will become jealous and work harm to 
their descendants. In some communities after the rice is 
garnered a big harvest festival is held in honor of the spirits 
of ancestors. The offering is placed with many rites under 
a tree some distance from where the happy farmers are 
making merry. 



SUPERSTITIONS AND CUSTOMS OF FILIPINO FARMERS 231 

Among the many and varied preliminaries the following 
ceremony inaugurates the harvest in some provinces. A 
woman with an established reputation for performing the 
opening of the harvest goes, early, dressed in black to the 
field the day before the reaping begins. Stopping at a corner 
of the field she makes sure no one is near, for onlookers would 
make the ceremony valueless; then she walks around the 
field on the "pilapil, " or dikes that separate the rice pad- 
dies. As she walks she repeats a prayer which she finishes 
when she reaches the place from where she started. From 
this point she goes direct into the field, making an opening 
in the standing grain for her passing by bending the stalks 
from her on either side. A few feet from the border she 
breaks seven stalks and ties them with straw into a bundle. 
Then standing very erect she repeats a prayer, placing at 
the same time, inside the bundle, a cross of coconut leaves 
which she has brought. This bundle of seven stalks she 
takes to the owner. The next day at the same hour five, 
seven, nine reapers (any odd number) go to the field and 
begin to cut the grain. But before the real work commences, 
they must each, working in absolute silence, being careful 
not to expectorate, cut a fair-sized bundle and take it to the 
place where the seven stalks were cut the day before, and 
lay it at the roots of the stubble. These lie untouched until 
the rice is cut. After this solemn performance is over the 
harvesting with all its merry chaffing and singing may begin. 

Harvesters should be happy and laughing, this keeps the 
grains in good condition. Every one, even the children 
must be careful not to bite the husk off the rice grains with 
their teeth. To do this would teach the rats and mice how 
to eat palay, or unhusked rice after it is put in the granary. 

There are innumerable minor superstitions and customs 
such as: A farmer must not sell rice during harvest; if he 
does his crop will not last till the next harvest. On Fridays 
rice or money must be given to all beggars who ask for it. 
To refuse will bring failure of the next crop. At the first 
meal eaten of the rice of the new harvest there must be 
some left in the kettle where the grain is cooked. This 
makes the next harvest abundant. Rice for food is par- 



232 EMMA SAREPTA YULE 

ticularly well cooked during harvest season as the swelling 
of the grains affects in like manner the size of the grains of 
the new harvest. A snake living in a granary is believed to 
aid in bringing a good yield. The reason that there is more 
bearded rice raised than non-bearded is that the latter is 
younger and has not had time to spread over so much of the 
country. 

Filipino farmers have one way of forecasting weather that 
is, at least, unique. For the first twelve days of the new 
year a record is kept that foretells, by months, the weather 
of the whole year. If it is a bright sunshiny day on the first 
day of January then the whole month, with the exception of 
the first twelve or indicating days, will be bright and sun- 
shiny. Should the third day of January be rainy then 
March will be a rainy month and so on for the whole year, 
the weather of the month being determined by the weather 
on the day with the corresponding number in January. 

There are special days when rain is a good sign or a bad 
sign. Rain on October 3, November 1, January 1, means 
a good crop. Rain on October 5 is so sure an indication of 
crop failure that should it occur many farmers will make no 
further effort to plant or do more with the crop already 
planted. On the other hand if it fails to rain on All Saints' 
Day many farmers will not go ahead with the cultivation 
of the rice-crop for rain on that day means a good crop. 

Some other crop indicators are: good mango crop, poor 
rice crop ; guava just the reverse. If the bamboo has flowers, 
they mean a shortage in the rice crop. If, on New Year's 
Eve the cow lows first after the midnight hour it means a 
good crop, but should the horse neigh or the dog bark before 
the cow gets in her "moo" failure of crop will result. 

There are customs and superstitions connected with the 
planting of corn, the second staple food crop of the Filipino 
farmer, though not nearly so many as with rice cultivation. 
The crop is newer in the Islands, is not so important, nor is 
it held in such esteem as rice. Many of the superstitions 
and practices resemble the customs used in rice growing; for 
example, the planter must eat heartily before planting, and 
must work quietly so the rats and mice and the spirits will 



SUPERSTITIONS AND CUSTOMS OF FILIPINO FARMERS 233 

not be attracted to the seed. Oftentimes planting is done 
at night so as to escape observation by animals and spirits. 
As further protection against these marauders a cross with 
garlic and other vegetables at the foot of it is placed in the 
cornfields. 

Some superstitions, however, are peculiar to corn-planting 
as: corn should be planted on the odd days of the month. 
To secure ears of corn with little husk the farmer while 
planting the corn wears as little clothing as possible ; some go 
almost naked. A woman must not drop seed-corn from an 
apron or skirt, as this would cause much husk. The planter 
turns around three times before beginning planting, as this 
makes three ears on a stalk a sure thing. Smoking should 
not be indulged in while planting, it will make small ears and 
small kernels. To eat sugar while planting corn is a good 
thing as it will make the kernels large and sweet. Chewing 
buyo makes red kernels. Laughing is prohibited as it 
makes few grains on the ear because the kernels will be 
far apart as the lips are in laughing. People with teeth 
missing are not permitted to plant corn, as there will be 
missing kernels on the ears. 

The Filipino farmer has many beliefs, interesting because 
of their simplicity, connected with the planting of fruits and 
vegetables. The few here given are types and illustrate the 
customs : sour fruits, as the tamarind, may be made sweeter 
if diluted honey be used to water the plants. Camotes, or 
sweet potatoes, are much sweeter if the hole for planting be 
made with a stalk of sugar cane. The banana will bear a 
big bunch with large fruits if the farmer encircles his head 
with his arms and then bows low after planting it. Vines 
growing on the ground, as the squash, are much larger if 
the planter lies flat on the ground with his arms and legs 
extended after the completion of his work. If the vines are 
trained over a frame the farmer hangs bottles on it to secure 
large fruits. There is a freak coconut that appears occa- 
sionally. Its peculiarity is that instead of water inside 
there is a jelly-like substance. This coconut is called 
"makapuno" and is a delicacy, a luxury, costing four or five 
times as much as the ordinary nut. To produce this desir- 



234 EMMA SARBPTA YULE 

able fruit, the planter keeps his mouth full of rice, cooked 
until very soft, while planting the germinated coconut. 

That all farmers in the Philippines are so influenced by 
superstitious beliefs is far from being true. Agriculture is 
too far advanced for that and there are educated, fairly 
well read farmers in touch, at least theoretically, with sensi- 
ble if not scientific methods of farming. But it is true that 
a large majority of the tillers of the soil have more confi- 
dence in the efficacy of the practices related here than in 
any new-fangled plows and harrows, seed-selection, germi- 
nating tests, fertilizers, and such things advocated by 
Americanos. The farmers have a curiosity about the ex- 
periments, demonstrations, and talks by the men from the 
Bureau of Agriculture, and College of Agriculture and the 
Farm School teachers, but they feel that the familiar tradi- 
tional methods are more reliable.